Meyer's Helpful Heathen Holiday Hints No. 2

Gentle Reader,

Yes, it is time once again for my personal 4-H meeting with you. Now this is not the 4-H of your childhood, complete with calves and crafts, mind you, but instead with my own Helpful Heathen Holiday Hints, advising you as to how you can tune in to the ancient origins of the season, i.e. the recognition of the winter solstice and perhaps, by reawakening some long forgotten wisdom, bring more meaning into your home this holiday season.

Now you may be saying, "Gee, Chris, I don't know. I'm pretty happy with the Jesus, Mary and Joseph thing. I mean, it's been that way since my childhood, and what will the neighbors think if I should start down the path to paganism?" As I alluded to in my previous post, gentle reader, you may already be on this path and don't even realize it! That Christmas tree around which you and yours gather in good cheer on December 25 isn't exactly "Christian", now is it? Often in the history of the church, its officials would adopt some of the heathen holiday habits and Christianize them, making it a win-win situation for everyone. The church didn't have to go in with fire and sword to force the peasants to drop the habit, and the peasants could keep their greenery, Yule logs, solstice fires and holiday libations and celebrate to their hearts' content.

One of the most ancient celebrations of the solstice involves *ta da!* the use of light, which naturally is at a premium in these shortest, darkest days of the year. In the days of December in the ancient Germanic homelands on the continent and especially in Scandanavia in Iceland, darkness ruled. While some have previously noted that the ritual use of light was a way of trying to bring back the sun in a sort of sympathetic magic, it is more likely that the ancients realized that, this being a yearly cycle, the sun would eventually return from its southern grave. Artifacts such as the Sky Disk of Nebra indeed show that Bronze Age man was quite advanced when it came to astronomy; in fact, this disk was used to determine both the solstices and equinoxes. So the idea that the sun may not return this time around is rather laughable. At the same time, however, these artifacts show that these events were not taken lightly, and indeed, were the basis of a few of the celebrations we celebrate today.

Light, that valuable commodity this time of year, is the basis of the following excerpt from one of my favorite episodes from my favorite television series of all time, Northern Exposure. In this episode, Chris in the Morning Stevens, the local DJ played by John Corbett, was hung up for ideas for his annual solsticial work of art, until inspiration hit him. Here in this clip, he introduces his creation to the community of Cicely, Alaska, which being a quite northern location, is down to a daily hour of daylight before the solstice.

So, this holiday season, think about how you can bring more light into your celebration. A solstice bonfire, the counterpart to the St. John's Day bonfire of the summer solstice, is always appropriate and a giver of welcome warmth, but it is not always possible in today's modern surroundings. I like the tradition of the Julleuchter, or Yule candlestick, pictured at the beginning of this column. Based on archaeological Turmleuchter, or tower candlesticks, from Scandanavia, it consists of natural (not black!) ceramic base, four-sided with a heart placed about a Hagal rune on each side. The heart here represents the bosom of life, more so than it does the cardiac muscle. (Actually, if one thinks about it, the heart symbol actually looks more like female sexual organs than it does its namesake.) This Hagal rune below it, from the younger Futhark, is the rune which literally represents hail and can be seen as a metaphor for the both destructive and generative (life-giving water as it melts) aspects of it, embodying the concept of the eternal return and the thought that creation is only possible through destruction. Some have also seen this six-spoked rune as a representation of the yearly cycle.

The use of the Julleuchter is as such that up until the day of the winter solstice, which falls this year on December 22nd, a candle stub of the previous year is lit under the Julleuchter, creating the glow seen in the picture and representing the stored, life-giving energy of the womb. The rebirth of the sun is then represented on the winter solstice by then placing a new candle atop the candlestick, letting the light shine in celebration of the fact that the days will now be lengthening. Some traditions tie this instead to the transition from the old year to the new on January 1st, but in my opinion, the tie to the solstice itself, being astronomically significant, is better.

May the light of the winter solstice fill your hearts with warmth and happiness this holiday season!


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